Middle East

Saudis move to ease humanitarian crisis spawned by Qatar blockade

Saudi Arabia is taking initials steps to ease the growing humanitarian crisis caused by the blockade it is leading against Qatar, in what a senior State Department official described to Fox News as “an encouraging sign.”

Because of new restrictions imposed by the blockade on both residence and travel, ‎as many as 10,000 families have been split up over demands Qatari citizens leave the neighboring countries where they had been living, with many leaving spouses and families behind.  

Saudi Arabia's King Salman is now directing his Kingdom's Interior Ministry to address such cases of forced repatriation.  

In the first of a pair of tweets posted on the state-run ‎Saudi Press Agency, the Qataris are referred to as "brotherly people." The tweet says King Salman wants to “take care of the humanitarian cases of the Saudi-Qatari joint families.”

A second tweet provides a phone number for affected families to call and ends with the hashtag #PeopleOfQatarInHeartOfSalman. 

The blockade, launched over Qatar’s alleged ties to terrorism, has brought the United States into the diplomatic fray.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ‎called on Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations to ease the blockade, citing the humanitarian crisis.

"We are seeing shortages of food, families are being forcibly separated, and children pulled put of school. We believe these are unintended consequences, especially during the Holy Month of Ramadan, but they can be addressed immediately," he said.  

While State Department officials are encouraged by the latest steps, it appears Russia also could be getting a foothold in the crisis.  

Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulrahman al-Thani was in Moscow for talks on the blockade earlier Saturday.